Why do immigrants carpool more?

When immigrants head to work or the store, they’re more likely to share a ride than American-born people are. But researchers haven’t figured out why. Now, a new study suggests that tight-knit social networks in ethnic communities contribute to higher carpooling rates among foreign-born residents.

Previous research showed that immigrants’ tendency to carpool wasn’t just due to lower income or higher-density housing. Even when those factors were constant, researchers still saw a significant difference in carpooling rates. One possibility is that ethnic groups help arrange transportation for newly-arrived residents; another is that people of the same ethnicity might often travel to the same locations for work or shopping.

To dig deeper, researchers studied US Census data and Southern California Association of Governments’ travel survey data from 2000 and 2001, respectively. The team tried to look for patterns in carpooling rates in Southern California, where many immigrants from Armenia, China, Guatemala, Iran, and other countries live.

More than one-fifth of the immigrants carpooled to work, compared to only 12 percent of people born in the US, the team reports in Urban Studies. Carpooling was still high — about 17 percent — even among immigrants who had lived in the States for two decades.

When the researchers controlled for factors such as income, density, and public transit access, they found that a higher percentage of immigrants in a neighborhood was linked to higher carpooling rates. In contrast, “non-English speakers living in low-immigrant neighbourhoods are actually less likely to carpool than are the US-born,” the team writes.

The results “suggest an important role for social networks” in determining carpool rates, the authors write. To preserve this sustainable practice, urban planners will need to ensure that gentrification doesn’t break up those close ethnic communities. Roberta Kwok | 9 October 2013

Source: Blumenberg, E. and M. Smart. 2013. Brother can you spare a ride? Carpooling in immigrant neighbourhoods. Urban Studies doi: 10.1177/0042098013502825.

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